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Why Is the Mediterranean Diet the Top-Rated Overall Diet?

Why Is the Mediterranean Diet the Top-Rated Overall Diet? 0

Unless you’ve been touring outer space for the past few decades, you’ve probably heard about the Mediterranean Diet. The U.S. News and World Report hires a panel of experts each year to evaluate popular diet plans and then rates them using criteria such as nutrition, safety, weight loss effectiveness, disease prevention and ease of following. Of the 41 diet plans reviewed, the Mediterranean Diet nabbed the top spot in 2019 for the following categories:

  • Best Diets Overall
  • Best Diabetes Diets
  • Best Diets for Healthy Eating
  • Best Heart-Healthy Diets
  • Best Plant-Based Diets
  • Easiest Diets to Follow

That’s a pretty impressive list of first places! Studies have found that people who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea tend to live longer and develop far fewer chronic diseases and health conditions compared to Americans and Northern Europeans. People in these countries don’t eat exactly the same things — Italians love their pasta, Spaniards their paella and Greeks their salad, but the bulk of the foods they eat all have something in common: fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood and healthy fats such as olive oil.

You might be saying, wait, don’t Italians drink gallons of wine and eat pizza, rich and cheesy pasta dishes, white bread and lots of lamb and veal? You will find these foods on many Italians’ tables— but the true Mediterranean way of eating over the centuries has included eating seasonal fruits and vegetables, olive oil instead of butter, nuts, beans and being physically active every day, mostly everyday activities such as walking, working, gardening — they weren’t racing to their CrossFit session or spin class.

It’s also important to note that serving sizes are much smaller than what you’ll find in the U.S. For example, if you go to an authentic Italian restaurant, you’ll see the menu divided into Antipasto (small appetizers), Primi (pasta dishes), Secondi (meat and fish), Contorni (side dishes) and finally Dolci (dessert). So yes, they are eating pasta — but it’s a small portion, not a heaping bowl! Let’s dig into what you can and can’t eat on the Mediterranean Diet, and then we’ll explore the scientifically proven benefits.

What Can I Eat on the Mediterranean Diet?

Unlike many diets, the Mediterranean Diet isn’t about counting calories, eliminating food groups or following a rigid eating plan — it’s about making wiser choices. For example, use olive oil instead of butter and eat whole-grain bread instead of white. A good place to start is reviewing the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Oldways Preservation and Trust created the original pyramid in 1993.

  • At the base (the widest part), the pyramid lists being physically active and enjoying meals with others.
  • Then the next layer up lists fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs and spices. You base every meal around these foods.  
  • Above that layer, you’ll find fish and seafood at least twice per week.
  • Next up is poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderate portions daily to weekly.
  • And at the top, the smallest layer, are meats and sweets meant to be enjoyed occasionally.

Unlike most diet plans, you’re allowed or even encouraged to consume wine — in moderation! That means a glass with a meal. You’re also encouraged to drink a lot of water. So how does this break down into traditional meals?

  • A Mediterranean Diet breakfast might be low-fat Greek yogurt with berries, walnuts and oats or a veggie omelet with a piece of fruit.
  • Lunch might be a tossed salad with tuna or a hummus sandwich on whole-grain bread with vegetables.
  • Dinner might be grilled salmon or chicken brushed with olive oil and herbs, a small serving of brown rice or quinoa and roasted veggies tossed in olive oil and herbs.
  • Snacks can include a handful of unsalted nuts, a piece of fruit or a few whole-grain crackers smeared with hummus.  

You might be thinking, “I like this plan, but I don’t have time to shop and cook all of this fresh stuff.” If that’s you, you can find meal delivery services that offer Mediterranean Diet meals. Let a professional chef do the work while you reap the benefits!

What to Avoid on the Mediterranean Diet

The simplicity of the Mediterranean Diet is one of the reasons the “U.S. News and World Reports” experts ranked it so high. Following the Mediterranean Diet is more of a lifestyle shift versus a short-term diet plan with a single purpose such as losing weight.

What to avoid:

  • Refined grains (white bread, white pasta, bagels, crackers, some cereals)
  • Added sugars (soft drinks, sugary energy or sports drinks, candy, ice cream, rich desserts)
  • Highly processed foods – the general rule of thumb is if it comes out of a box, bottle, bag or can, it’s likely to contain a lot of calories, sodium, fat, sugar, preservatives or artificial ingredients. Even ones labeled “low-fat” or “fat-free” often contain a lot of sugar and sodium. This can include salad dressings, jarred pasta sauces and frozen entrees, so read the labels.
  • Hydrogenated oils such as palm, cottonseed, blended vegetable oils and trans fats such as non-dairy creamers, baked goods, movie popcorn, fried foods and margarine.
  • Processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausage and deli meats.

What Are the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?

Unlike many of the trendy diet plans that pop up every few years, the Mediterranean Diet has been around for a long time — so it’s been well-studied over extended periods involving millions of people.

Researchers have consistently found a slew of health improvements in people who have adopted the Mediterranean Diet as their lifestyle eating plan.

Decreased Risk of Heart Disease

Since the diet is high in nuts, seafood and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, you get a lot of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Olive oil also contains elements known to help lower blood pressure. Some studies have found that the Mediterranean Diet helps reduce the risk of death from stroke, heart attack or cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.

Decreased Risk of Cancer

Researchers looked at 27 studies of more than two million people and found that the Mediterranean Diet reduced cancer mortality rates, especially in breast, colon and gastric cancer. Since the diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re getting loads of antioxidants that protect DNA from damage, lower inflammation and inhibit cell mutation.

Boosts Cognition, Mood and Brain Health

Again, the healthy fats and antioxidants help reduce the risks of cognitive-decline diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s. The healthy fats and the carotenoids found in many veggies are also known to improve mood and reduce depression.

Prevents or Reduces Diabetes

In addition to reducing inflammation, which is often the precursor to metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes, the Mediterranean Diet controls excess insulin, which helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. Complex carbs such as quinoa and buckwheat don’t cause the blood sugar spikes that refined carbs found in white bread and white rice do.

Promotes a Healthy Weight

Although it’s not touted as the number one weight loss diet, you can lose weight on the Mediterranean Diet. You’re cutting out foods high in empty carbs, nutrition-less calories, sugar and trans fats and eating high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods. Over time, if you watch portion sizes and get moderate exercise daily, you will lose weight — but more importantly, you can keep the weight off. So many of us have success with losing weight on trendy weight-loss diets, only to find the weight creeping back on when we stop following the diet plan. Many find once they start following a Mediterranean Diet plan, it becomes normal and doesn’t feel like “dieting.”

Promotes Longevity of Life

Due to many of the reasons above such as lowering disease risks and maintaining a healthy weight, the Mediterranean Diet has been proven over and over to prevent people from dying as early as those who don’t follow a healthy eating plan. It’s a sustainable way to live and eat, so millions of people are choosing the Mediterranean Diet. Are you ready to feel and look better with the top-rated diet? Buon appetito!